It’s Christmas this Saturday, Constant Reader, what a certain stop-motion animated snowman refers to as that holly jolly time of the year. Of course, here in New York, nothing is particularly jolly at the moment. The omicron variant is running rampant, bringing back the sickening dread we all felt back at the start of this pandemic. Broadway shows are closing left and right, as breakthrough cases keep occurring in their companies. Despite this, fear of losing holiday revenue is prohibiting a second lockdown – which has the effect of heightening the unease and dread. Indeed, the timing of all this has added an element of rage as well – an almost primal fury that the Christmas season is once again being taken away from us, which we seem to have no ability to cope with.
Which is incredibly weird, because for as long as I’ve been alive (and I’m old), Christmas stories have been explicitly telling us how to cope with things like this.
Note that I’m not referring to the religious aspects of the holiday here (although this would be an excellent time to start looking at Jesus’ “love thy neighbot” message again). I’m talking about the Christmas of our holiday movies and television specials, some of our major cultural touchstones. I’m talking about the animated specials we grew up with as children, the beloved stories we continue to tell each and every year. Stories with messages that would seem to have useful guidance for us at the moment.
Like how the Whos gathered together in their public square on Christmas morning, even after the Grinch had stolen all their belongings, and sang a joyful song of thanks. And how the sound they made reformed the Grinch, as he realized that “Christmas, perhaps, didn’t come from a store.”
Or how the Cratchits came together to support each other as a family, despite their poverty and the health crisis their youngest son was facing. And how Scrooge realized the error of his ways, and realized the best use of his wealth was assisting this struggling family and providing their son with medical care. Remember that one? There’s usually a half-dozen adaptations playing on television at any given time (best one is the Muppets, obviously).
The Baileys of Bedford Falls knew years of privation, stifled dreams, and tragedy; the happy ending of It’s a Wonderful Life occurs when their community comes to their assistance, in recognition of all the different ways George Bailey had come to their assistance through the decades. Any chance we might view Bedford Falls as a model to emulate, and not just a pretty little upstate New York town?
We gather round and hear these stories every single year. Every year, the Ghost of Christmas Present chides us for airily dismissing the “surplus population,” and bids us to beware of Ignorance and Want. Every year, the community at the North Pole expresses their shame in bullying poor misfit Rudolph all his life. Every year, Charlie Brown laments the overcommercialization of the holiday, and the dangers of unchecked capitalism (and in demanding “tens and twenties” and then plaintively moaning upon being rebuffed that all she wants is her “fair share,” his sister Sally provides an astoundingly prophetic portrait of what contemporary discourse calls “privilege”).
Shouldn’t we have learned any of these lessons by now?
Because alongside the fear and desperation currently rampaging as unchecked as the omicron virus, I see a profound selfishness. Lack of community. Indifference. A nation full of people seeing the suffering of their fellow citizens and shrieking to the heavens in rage that their Christmas toys are being taken from them.
I’m not sure what to do about any of this. I believe in storytelling as much as I believe in Christmas, so I’m sure all of these lessons can get through. Maybe it’s a question of actually paying attention to them again, not letting them be the white noise in the background while you’re trimming the tree, but actually listening to them.
Because they’re good stories. It is a lovely holiday. Have a good one, Constant Reader.